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Sophomore Nyrie Kasparian places her handprint on a poster commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide. Students and community members convened on the West Mall on Friday to remember the 1.5 million Armenians who were killed.
Photo Credit: Charlotte Carpenter | Daily Texan Staff

Students and members of the local Armenian community lit candles inside a replica of an Armenian monument in memory of a historical tragedy. 

Volunteers from the Armenian Cultural Association built a replica of the Tsitsernakaberd Memorial Complex, located in Yerevan, Armenia, on the West Mall to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1.5 million Armenian people killed in the Ottoman Empire, now Turkey, in 1915. Most historians consider the deaths one of the first modern genocides.

Karen Aroian, who helped organize the commemorative event, said the goal was to increase awareness of the Armenian genocide and other mass killings. 

“If we, as [the Armenian genocide] descendants, do not speak out for the voiceless and vulnerable, then genocide is bound to continue to today,” Aroian said. “What more do you need beside the mass murders of women, children and men who are defenseless?” 

Brandon Keropian, co-owner of South Austin Studio and member of the Armenian community, said the genocide personally affected his family members. 

“My great-grandparents went through this,” Keropian said. “My great-grandmother was one of seven kids, and they were all murdered, and she was lucky that she was spared. Her parents hid her with some Mormon nuns in Armenia.”

Advertising graduate student Davit Davtyan said he was frustrated President Barack Obama broke his campaign promise to recognize the Armenian genocide in such terms. During his first presidential campaign in 2008, then-Sen. Obama called the events in Armenia in 1915 a genocide. He has not referred to the killings as a genocide since his election.

A White House press release to acknowledge Armenian Remembrance Day referred to the historical event as a “mass atrocity.”

“He promised to recognize the Armenian genocide and name it a genocide,” Davtyan said. “Any time when a U.S. official, like a senator or someone like that, asks for support, and they promise to help us with recognition of that massacre, a later day they forget about this because they don’t want to damage their relationship with Turkey, which is an ally of [the] U.S.” 

No president since Ronald Reagan has used the word “genocide” during his term to describe the killings.

Undeclared sophomore Nyrie Kasparian said greater recognition of the 1.5 million Armenian deaths has long been a goal of the community. 

“I always made efforts to tell all my friends back in high school,” Kasparian said. “Even in elementary school, I would bring petitions to school and get my teachers to sign it. We’ve always been working toward recognition.”

Davtyan said the Armenian community is committed to remembering its past to prevent genocides from being committed again. 

“We are doing this for peace,” Davtyan said. “This is not only for the Armenian genocide. We devote this event to all genocides that were committed in the past.”

Gökhan Bacik talks in a Mezes auditorium about relationships between different countries in the Middle East. Bacik is the dean and a professor of political science at İpek University’s School of Government.

Photo Credit: Xintong Guo | Daily Texan Staff

A diverse audience filled a Mezes lecture hall Tuesday evening for a talk on the Middle East, with some audience members resorting to sitting on the ground and in the aisles.

The Department of Middle Eastern Studies hosted the talk, which discussed sub-state groups in the Middle East. The audience included faculty and students, undergraduate and high school alike.

“I brought the kids so they could get a perspective on the Middle East from a secular source,” said Cassandra Troy, an Austin High School English teacher. “Many parents were concerned about the situation with ISIS because we send a group of seniors annually to Turkey.”

The lecturer, Gökhan Bacik — dean and professor of political science at İpek University in Gaziantep, Turkey — specializes in state formation. 

“If I were to personally sum up what’s happening in the Middle East right now with one word, it would be ‘refugees,’” Bacik said. “Some cities in Syria have lost more than 200,000 citizens.”

Bacik said “revolution-storations” are responsible for these refugees.

“People want to dismiss regimes automatically,” Bacik said. “To remove regimes the people must act quickly to avoid disaster and state collapse.”

According to Bacik, the outcomes of revolutions can be unpredictable. Bacik cited the political coup in Egypt as an example of a successful revolution.

“People defeated the regime, and it left,” Bacik said. “Turkey officially views what happened in Egypt as a coup d’état.”

Bacik said that discussions about the Middle East must no longer focus on nation-states but rather small sub-state actors. Bacik believes conflicts in the Middle East cause populations to seek stability within smaller groups. 

“This is the golden age of sub-state actors,” Bacik said. “When extreme groups occupy an area and start killing peoples they are against, the only thing those people have to do, since there are no government machines, is turn to another sub-state group for protection.”

The lecture topic appealed to an interdisciplinary group; many art history, political science and Middle Eastern studies majors attended.

“We wanted to bring in a lecturer who would have an insight into a confusing area of the world,” said Jeannette Okur, Middle Eastern studies lecturer. “He came highly recommended by some of my former colleagues from when I was in Turkey.”

Eduardo Luna, a government senior and international student, learned to appreciate and dispel any misconceptions he had of Middle Eastern cultures while undergoing a transformative and enlightening experience on his study abroad program in Turkey. 

His only regret was that he couldn’t stay longer.

“More often than not, ignorance breeds conflict,” Luna said. “I think it is tremendously important for students to study other cultures, especially ones that are as heavily stereotyped as the ones in the Middle East.”

Being that it is a nation that has had a changing political evironment in the last decade, Turkey was always fascinating and inspirational for Luna. 

However, Turkey is currently facing civil unrest arising from religious and political conflicts between the Turkish people and their government. Secular Turks are rebelling against the government’s mishandling of religious regulations and fighting for religious freedom. Being a political, cultural and geographic bridge between the United States and the Middle East and an important American ally, Turkey’s current situation could impact its relations with America.

“Turkey is making history right now,” Luna said. “If the protests in Turkey are successful, I think it will embolden an already interesting U.S.-Turkish relationship.”

According to Jeannette Okur, a lecturer in the Middle Eastern Studies department, Austin and Antalya, a city in Southern Turkey, became official sister cities which facilitated intercultural and interfaith dialogue as city officials and diplomats have gone back and forth between the two cities. Antalya is home to polytheists, Jews, Christians and Muslims, and thus has a tradition of peaceful coexistence among faiths.

Senay Ozdemir, a journalist, visiting professor at UT and an international exchange agent, is currently working on creating an independent news outlet to report on Turkey. Ozedemir is a strong advocate of opportunities for students to travel and study in Turkey.

Ozdemir said since the end of the Cold War, no region has been more critical to United States foreign policy than the Middle East, whether as a source of oil, international strife or terrorism. Being a mediator between the these regions, Turkey plays a significant role.

“Turkey is the place where American students can discover how Islamic values can be combined with modernity, feminism and a contemporary way of living in Middle Eastern countries,” Ozdemir said.

Ozdemir said globally important institutions such as UT-Austin should foster understanding of Turkish government and society through multiple channels, which she proposes could be achieved through emphasis on Turkey for UT students studying in relevant disciplines in study abroad programs.

“American academics should acknowledge that Turkey is an opportunity for the West to see it as a bridge to the Middle East, not only for the generations that govern today, but for future generations,” Ozdemir said. “The academic study and resulting awareness and increased knowledge will help US students – tomorrow’s leaders – understand a world of 350 million Middle Eastern Muslims.”

Okur led the UT students on an exchange program to the TOBB University of Economics and Technology (TOBB-ETU) in Ankara, Turkey.

Okur said Austin’s city, academic, business and religious leaders have developed strong ties with Turkey.

For about 15 to 20 years, UT has had full campus exchange programs with Bogazici University in Istanbul, Turkey and the Middle Eastern Technical University in Ankara. Okur said students and faculty members have regularly travelled to both campuses on study and teach abroad and exchange programs. 

“The most active exchange is between the engineering schools in these universities but we’re hoping to expand that to other disciplines,” Okur said. “At this time we have eight students in Istanbul and about the same number in Ankara.”

Such a program has not only increased Luna’s exposure but also contributed greatly to his understanding of the region and its issues, Luna said.

“A little understanding goes a long way, and visiting a foreign country while immersing yourself in a different culture is the best way to develop that understanding,” Luna said. “I think that Westerners should make a little more effort to understand and educate themselves about the diverse Middle Eastern cultures and the different issues afflicting the region.” 

Follow Rabeea Tahir on Twitter @rabeeatahir2.

In this Monday photo, a Syrian man runs for cover during heavy fighting betwen Free Syrian Army fighters and government forces in Aleppo, Syria.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BEIRUT — Syria’s civil war is closing in on President Bashar Assad’s seat of power in Damascus with clashes between government forces and rebels flaring around the city Tuesday, raising fears the capital will become the next major battlefield in the 20-month-old conflict.

Numerous reports emerged of at least a dozen people killed near the ancient city and elsewhere, and the regime said nine students and a teacher died from rebel mortar fire on a school. The state news agency originally said 30 people had been killed in the attack.

While many of the mostly poor, Sunni Muslim suburbs ringing Damascus have long been opposition hotbeds, fighting has intensified in the area in recent weeks as rebels press a battle they hope will finish Assad’s regime.

“The push to take Damascus is a real one, and intense pressure to take control of the city is part of a major strategic shift by rebel commanders,” said Mustafa Alani of the Geneva-based Gulf Research Center. “They have realized that without bringing the fight to Damascus, the regime will not collapse.”

The increased pressure has raised worries that he or his forces will resort to desperate measures, perhaps striking neighbors Turkey or Israel, or using chemical weapons.

NATO foreign ministers approved Turkey’s request for Patriot anti-missile systems to be deployed along its southern border to defend against possible strikes from Syria.

“We stand with Turkey in the spirit of strong solidarity,” NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters after the meeting in Brussels. “To anyone who would want to attack Turkey, we say, ‘Don’t even think about it!’”

Before the meeting, Fogh Rasmussen said he expected any use of chemical weapons to get an “immediate reaction from the international community.”

On Monday, President Barack Obama said there would be consequences if Assad made the “tragic mistake” of deploying chemical weapons, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he agreed with the U.S. position.

“We are of the same opinion, that these weapons should not be used and must not reach terror groups,” Netanyahu said.

U.S. intelligence has seen signs that Syria is moving materials inside chemical weapons facilities recently, though it is unsure what the movement means. Still, U.S. officials said the White House and its allies are weighing military options should they decide to secure Syria’s chemical and biological weapons.

In July, Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told a news conference that Syria would only use chemical or biological weapons in case of foreign attack, not against its own people. The ministry then tried to blur the issue, saying it had never acknowledged having such weapons.

Printed on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012 as: Syrian fighting approaches Damascus

Newton Dons Superman Cape

Whether it was from turkey and stuffing on Thanksgiving or shopping for flat screen televisions and mp3 players on Black Friday, this week was not kind to the bodies of millions of Americans.  Exhausted and full, what better way to rest up from a long week than to sit back, relax, and watch some football?  With their fantasy owners on the mend, these players stepped in and gave them something to be thankful for:

1) Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers

Playing for the first time on Monday Night Football, Newton shook his sophomore slump and looked like the dominant player he was in his rookie season, leading Carolina to a 30-22 win in Philadelphia. Newton did it with his legs and his arm, throwing for 306 yards and two touchdowns in addition to rushing for 52 yards and two touchdowns.

2) Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots

Brady and the Pats capped off the NFL’s Thanksgiving games by thrashing the Jets on national television, 49-19.  As was expected, Brady dissected the Jets, throwing for 323 yards and three touchdowns while running for another. For the season, he now has 24 touchdown passes and only three interceptions.

3) Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys

Bryant looked incredible for the second week in a row, torching the Redskins for his second straight 145-yard receiving game.  Although the Cowboys’ frenzied attempt to rally from a 28-3 halftime deficit fell short, Bryant did his part by hauling in two touchdowns in second half of the game.

In this Saturday photo, a Syrian elder sits on a hospital trolley suffering partial loss of memory after was shot in the head by a sniper while walking on a street in Bustan Al-Pasha, Aleppo, Syria.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BEIRUT — Syria’s air force fired missiles and dropped barrel bombs on rebel strongholds while opposition fighters attacked regime positions Sunday, flouting a U.N.-backed cease-fire that was supposed to quiet fighting over a long holiday weekend but never took hold.

The failure to push through a truce so limited in its ambitions — just four days — has been a sobering reflection of the international community’s inability to ease 19 months of bloodshed in Syria. It also suggests that the stalemated civil war will drag on, threatening to draw in Syria’s neighbors in this highly combustible region such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

“This conflict has now taken a dynamic of its own which should be worrying to everyone,” said Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center think tank.

The U.N. tried to broker a halt to fighting over the four-day Eid al-Adha Muslim feast that began Friday, one of the holiest times of the Islamic calendar. But the truce was violated almost immediately after it was supposed to take effect, the same fate other cease-fires in Syria have met.

Activists said at least 110 people were killed Sunday, a toll similar to previous daily casualty tolls. They include 16 who died in an airstrike on the village of al-Barra in northern Syria’s mountainous Jabal al-Zawiya region.

The Observatory also reported a car bomb that exploded in a residential area in the Damascus neighborhood of Barzeh and wounded 15 people, but the target was not immediately clear.

Though Syria’s death toll has topped 35,000, the bloodiest and most protracted crisis of the Arab Spring, the West has been wary of intervening. There is concern about sparking a wider conflagration because Syria borders Israel and is allied with Iran and the powerful Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

There are already increasing incidents of the civil war spilling across borders.

Many in Lebanon blame Syria and Hezbollah for the Oct. 19 car bomb that killed the country’s intelligence chief. The assassination stirred up sectarian tensions in Lebanon.

Lebanon’s two largest political coalitions have lined up on opposite sides of Syria’s civil war. Hezbollah and its partners who dominate the government have stood by Assad’s regime, while the Sunni-led opposition backs the rebels seeking to topple the Syrian government. Assad and many in his inner circle are Alawites — an offshoot of Shiite Islam and a minority in Syria — while the rebels come mostly from the country’s Sunni majority.

Iraqi Shiites also increasingly fear a spillover from Syria. Iraqi authorities on Sunday forced an Iranian cargo plane heading to Syria to land for inspection in Baghdad to ensure it was not carrying weapons, the second such forced landing this month. The move appeared aimed at easing U.S. concerns that Iraq has become a route for shipments of Iranian military supplies that could help Assad battle rebels.

In Jordan, concern over stability was underlined last month, when its U.S., British and French allies quickly dispatched their military experts to help Jordanian commandos devise plans to shield the population in case of a chemical attack from neighboring Syria.

Turkey’s support for the Syrian rebel movement is another point of tension, and Turkey has reinforced its border and fired into Syria on several occasions recently in response to shells that have landed from Syria inside Turkish territory.

The U.S. administration says it remains opposed to military action in Syria and politicians have been preoccupied this year with the presidential election, now a few weeks away. On Sunday, Syrian warplanes struck the eastern Damascus suburbs of Arbeen, Harasta and Zamalka to try to drive out rebels, according to activists in those areas and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which compiles information from activists in Syria.

In Douma, another Damascus suburb, rebels wrested three positions from regime forces, including an unfinished high-rise building that had been used by regime snipers, according to the Observatory and Mohammed Saeed, a local activist.

Fighting was also reported near Maaret al-Numan, a strategic town along the Aleppo-Damascus highway that rebels seized earlier this month. Opposition fighters including the al-Qaida-inspired Jabhat al-Nusra, have also besieged a nearby military base and repeatedly attacked government supply convoys heading there. The Observatory said the Syrian air force fired missiles and dropped barrel bombs — makeshift weapons made of explosives stuffed into barrels — on villages near the base.

The cease-fire was seen as a long shot from the outset. International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi failed to get firm commitments from all combatants, and no mechanism to monitor violations was put in place.
Jabhat al-Nusra rejected the truce outright. In a video posted this week, the leader of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahri, urged Muslims everywhere to support Syria’s uprising.

“It’s not just about the Syria military and the army defectors that form the backbone of the Free Syrian Army rebel group anymore,” said Hassan Abdul-Azim, a Damascus-based opposition leader. He said there were so many foreign fighters and external actors now involved in the Syrian civil war that only an agreement among the various international and regional powers could put an end to the fighting.

“The truce was merely an attempt by Brahimi to try and temporarily ease the people’s suffering in the lost time until the U.S. elections, in the hope that the international community can then get its act together and agree on a diplomatic solution for Syria,” he told The Associated Press.

But with the unraveling of the cease-fire, it’s unclear what the international community can do next.

Assad allies Russia and China have shielded his regime against harsher U.N. Security Council sanctions, while the rebels’ foreign backers including neighboring Turkey have shied away from military intervention. Iran, which is embroiled in its own diplomatic standoff with the West over its suspect nuclear program, is also a staunch supporter of Assad’s regime.

The U.S., meanwhile, is averse to sending strategic weapons to help the rebels break the battlefield stalemate, fearing they will fall into the hands of militant Islamists, who are increasingly active in rebel ranks.
“There has been a lack of desire to take the tough decisions,” said Shaikh.

“In Washington, they’ve only been focused on the narrow political goal of their own elections, trying to convince a war-wary public inside the U.S. that we are actually disengaging from the conflicts of the Middle East,” he said.

The truce was called as the two sides were battling over strategic targets in a largely deadlocked civil war. They include a military base near a main north-south highway, the main supply route to Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, where regime forces and rebels have been fighting house-to-house. It appears each side feared the other could exploit a lull to improve its positions.

Brahimi has not said what would follow a cease-fire. Talks between Assad and the Syrian opposition on a peaceful transition are blocked, since the Syrian leader’s opponents say they will not negotiate unless Assad resigns, something he has always refused to do.

In April, Brahimi’s predecessor as Syria mediator, former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, tried to launch a more comprehensive plan — an open-ended cease-fire to be enforced by hundreds of U.N. monitors, followed by talks on a political transition. Annan’s plan failed to gain traction, and after an initial decrease in violence, his proposed cease-fire collapsed.

On Sunday, amateur videos posted online showed warplanes flying over the eastern suburbs of Damascus. One video showed two huge clouds of smoke rising from what was said to be Arbeen, and the sound of an airplane could be heard in the background. It was not clear if the video showed the aftermath of shelling or an airstrike.

Another video showed destruction inside the Sheikh Moussa mosque in Harasta. Windows and doors were blown out, glass and debris scattered across the mosque’s floor. The narrator broke down as he was heard saying: “Where are the Muslims? Our mosques are being bombed and no one cares.”

The videos appeared consistent with Associated Press reporting in the area.

The Syrian government has accused the rebels of violating the cease-fire from the start. The state-run news agency SANA said opposition fighters carried out attacks in a number of areas, including in Aleppo and the eastern town of Deir el-Zour

Smoke rises over Saif Al Dawla district in Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2012.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

BEIRUT — Turkish artillery fired on Syrian targets Wednesday after shelling from Syria struck a border village in Turkey, killing five civilians, sharply escalating tensions between the two neighbors and prompting NATO to convene an emergency meeting.

“Our armed forces at the border region responded to this atrocious attack with artillery fire on points in Syria that were detected with radar, in line with the rules of engagement,” the Turkish government said in a statement from the prime minister’s office.

The artillery fire capped a day that began with four bombs tearing through a government-held district in Syria’s commercial and cultural capital of Aleppo, killing more than 30 people and reducing buildings to rubble.

Along the volatile border, a shell fired from inside Syria landed on a home in the Turkish village of Akcakale, killing a woman, her three daughters and another woman, and wounding at least 10 others, according to Turkish media.

The shelling appeared to come from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime, which is fighting rebels backed by Turkey in an escalating civil war.

“Turkey, acting within the rules of engagement and international laws, will never leave unreciprocated such provocations by the Syrian regime against our national security,” the office of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement.

Turkish media said Turkey has prepared a parliamentary bill for Syria that is similar to one that authorizes the Turkish military to intervene in northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish militants who have bases there. The bill is expected to be discussed in parliament on Thursday, Anadolu agency reported.

If approved, the bill could more easily open the way to unilateral action by Turkey’s armed forces inside Syria, without the involvement of its Western and Arab allies.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the U.S. was “outraged that the Syrians have been shooting across the border,” adding that she would speak with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on the matter.

“It’s a very, very dangerous situation,” Clinton said. “And all responsible nations need to band together to persuade the Assad regime to have a cease-fire, quit assaulting their own people and begin the process of a political transition.”

NATO’s National Atlantic Council, which is composed of the alliance’s ambassadors, held an emergency meeting in Brussels Wednesday night at Turkey’s request to discuss the cross-border incident.

The meeting ended with a statement strongly condemning the attack and saying: “The alliance continues to stand by Turkey and demands the immediate cessation of such aggressive acts against an ally.” It also urged the Syrian regime to “put an end to flagrant violations of international law.”

NATO also held an emergency meeting when a Turkish jet was shot down by Syria in June, killing two pilots.

Turkey wants to avoid going into Syria on its own. It has been pushing for international intervention in the form of a safe zone, which would likely entail foreign security forces on the ground and a partial no-fly zone. However, the allies fear military intervention in Syria could ignite a wider conflict, and few observers expect robust action from the United States, which Turkey views as vital to any operation in Syria, ahead of the presidential election in November.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, second right, meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, fourth from front on left side, during a bilateral meeting at a hotel Saturday, March 31, 2012 in Istanbul, Turkey. Clinton is in Turkey to attend the second meeting of the “Friends of the Syrian People.”

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

ISTANBUL — A coalition of more than 70 partners, including the United States, pledged Sunday to send millions of dollars and communications equipment to Syria’s opposition groups, signaling deeper involvement in the conflict amid a growing belief that diplomacy and sanctions alone cannot end the Damascus regime’s repression.

The shift by the U.S. and its Western and Arab allies toward seeking to sway the military balance in Syria carries regional risks because the crisis there increasingly resembles a proxy conflict that could exacerbate sectarian tensions. The Syrian rebels are overmatched by heavily armed regime forces.

The summit meeting of the “Friends of the Syrian People” follows a year of failed diplomacy that seems close to running its course with a troubled peace plan led by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

Indeed, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and other participants at the conference in Istanbul uniformly expressed concern that Annan’s plan might backfire, speculating that Syrian President Bashar Assad would try to manipulate it to prolong his hold on power.

Clinton said she was waiting for Annan’s report to the U.N. Security Council on Monday on the status of his peace plan.

“There cannot be process for the sake of process. There has to be a timeline. If Assad continues as he has, to fail to end the violence, to institute a cease-fire, to withdraw his troops from the areas he has been battering ... then it’s unlikely he is going to ever agree,” she said. “Because it is a clear signal that he wants to wait to see if he has totally suppressed the opposition. I think he would be mistaken to believe that. My reading is that the opposition is gaining in intensity, not losing.”

Clinton said the United States is providing communications equipment to help anti-government activists in Syria organize, remain in contact with the outside world and evade regime attacks.

The Syrian regime agreed last week to Annan’s plan, which calls for an immediate cease-fire, humanitarian access to besieged civilians and a political negotiation process led by Syrians. Since then, there have been daily reports of violence, including shelling Sunday in Homs that activists said killed more than two dozen people.

The uprising began in March 2011 as part of the Arab Spring with peaceful protests calling for political reforms. Assad’s regime sent tanks, snipers and thugs to try to quash the revolt, and many in the opposition have taken up arms to defend themselves and attack government troops. The United Nations says more than 9,000 have died.

Conference participants in Istanbul said Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are creating a fund to pay members of the rebel Free Syrian Army and soldiers who defect from the regime and join opposition ranks. One delegate described the fund as a “pot of gold” to undermine Assad’s army.

Participants confirmed the Gulf plan on condition of anonymity because details were still being worked out. One said the fund would involve several million dollars a month. It is said to be earmarked for salaries, but it was not clear whether there would be any effort to prevent the diversion of money to weapons purchases, a sensitive issue that could prompt stronger accusations of military meddling by foreign powers.

The delivery of humanitarian aid to Syria’s beleaguered civilians is a key provision of Annan’s plan. Clinton announced $12 million in additional aid for Syria’s people — doubling total U.S. assistance so far.

The Saudis and other Arab Gulf states have proposed giving weapons to the rebels, while the U.S. and other allies have balked out of fear of fueling an all-out civil war. Washington hasn’t taken any public position on the fund, but it appears that it has given tacit support to its Arab allies.

Mohammed al-Said, a Syrian activist in the town of Duma, northwest of Damascus, said salaries might encourage further defections, but that only arms would turn the tide against Assad.

“What is clear to us is that only fighting can make this regime leave,” he said, adding the opposition wanted arms over intervention so they could topple Assad themselves.

Fayez Amru, a rebel who recently defected from the military and is now based in Turkey, welcomed the decision as a “humanitarian step in the right direction” but also said weapons were needed.

“We feel let down by the international community. I don’t know why there is hesitation by the West ... maybe this will help at least keep the rebels on their feet,” Amru said.

In Damascus, Syria blasted the conference, calling it part of an international conspiracy to kill Syrians and weaken the country. A front-page editorial in the official Al-Baath newspaper said the meeting was a “regional and international scramble to search for ways to kill more Syrians, sabotage their society and state, and move toward the broad objective of weakening Syria.”

Russia and China have twice protected the Assad regime from censure by the U.N. Security Council, fearing such a step could lead to foreign military intervention. Syria’s international opponents have no plans to launch a military operation similar to the Libya bombing campaign that ousted Moammar Gadhafi, especially without U.N. support, but they are slowly overcoming doubts about assisting scattered rebel forces.

The debate over arming or funding the rebels is being driven partly by the sectarian split in the region. The upheaval in Syria presents an opportunity for the Sunni Muslim states in the Gulf to bolster their influence, consolidate power and possibly leave regional rival Iran, led by a Shiite theocracy, without critical alliances that flow through Damascus.

Assad’s regime, which counts Iran among its few allies, is led by the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiism.

Last year, Saudi Arabia sent tanks to help fellow Sunni leaders in Bahrain crush a largely Shiite rebellion there, indicating that sectarian interests sometimes trump calls for democratic change in the Middle East.

Turkey hosts 20,000 Syrian refugees, including hundreds of army defectors, and has floated the idea of setting up a buffer zone inside Syria if the flow of displaced people across its border becomes overwhelming. Parts of the southern Turkish region near Syria are informal logistics bases for rebels, who collect food and other supplies in Turkey and deliver them to comrades on smuggling routes.

Delegates to the Istanbul meeting talked of tighter sanctions and increased diplomatic pressure on Assad, and Syrian opposition representatives promised to offer a democratic alternative to his regime. Yet the show of solidarity at the conference was marred by the absence of China, Russia and Iran.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said military options might have to be considered if Syria does not cooperate with Annan’s plan and the U.N. Security Council does not unite against Assad.

“If the U.N. Security Council fails once again to bring about its historic responsibility, there will be no other choice than to support the Syrian people’s right to self-defense,” Erdogan said.

Burhan Ghalioun, leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, called for the strengthening of Syrian rebel forces as well as “security corridors” in Syria, a reference to internationally protected zones on Syrian territory that would allow the delivery of aid to civilians. However, the nations meeting in Istanbul failed to agree on such an intervention, which could involve the deployment of foreign security forces.

“No one should allow this regime to feel at ease or to feel stronger by giving them a longer maneuvering area,” he said, reflecting fears that Assad would try to use the Annan plan to prolong his tenure. “It’s enough that the international community has flirted with the regime in Syria. Something has to change.”

The Syrian National Council said weapons supplies to the opposition were not “our preferred option” because of the risk they could escalate the killing of civilians, but it appealed for technical equipment to help rebels coordinate.

“For these supplies to be sent, neighboring countries need to allow for the transfer via their sea ports and across borders,” the council said.

The one-day meeting followed an inaugural forum in Tunisia in February. Since then, Syrian opposition figures have tried to convince international sponsors that they can overcome their differences and shape the future of a country whose autocratic regime has long denied the free exchange of ideas.

In Istanbul, police used tear gas and batons to disperse a group of about 40 Assad supporters who tried to approach the conference building. Many held portraits of the Syrian leader. One man waved Chinese and Russian flags.

ISTANBUL — A year of sanctions, diplomacy and harsh rhetoric failed to stop Syria’s bloody crackdown and oust President Bashar Assad. With frustration running high, Turkey and other countries that have staked moral credibility on ending the violence are increasingly looking at intervention on Syrian soil, a strategy they have so far avoided for lack of international consensus and fears it could widen the conflict.

Diplomacy has not yet run its course, but more treacherous options, including aid to Syrian rebels, are likely to come up at a meeting of dozens of countries that oppose Assad, including the United States and its European and Arab partners, in Istanbul on April 1.

One prominent option floated by Turkey is a “buffer zone” on the Turkish-Syrian border, which could amount to a foreign military occupation, intent on regime change even if the aim is humanitarian in name. The risks of such an endeavor in a combustible region are evident in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon decades ago and Syria’s own military presence in Lebanon until 2005.

Yet, comparisons with international hesitation over the Balkans bloodshed in the 1990s make it ever harder to engage in seemingly endless, and fruitless, diplomacy.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan discussed Syria with U.S. President Barack Obama on Sunday at a nuclear security conference in South Korea, and said it was not possible to tolerate events there. Earlier, Erdogan was asked by reporters on his plane whether a safe zone inside Syria was on the agenda.

“Studies are under way,” Erdogan said. “It would depend on developments. The ‘right to protection’ may be put into use, according to international rules. We are trying to find a solution by engaging Russia, China and Iran.”

Erdogan predicted that “everything could change” if those countries withdraw their support for Syria, and he accused Assad of reviving ties with and “protecting” rebels of the PKK, a Turkish Kurd group at war with the Turkish state. Turkey already hosts some 17,000 Syrian refugees, and casting the Syrian crisis in terms of Turkey’s national security strengthens the case for intervention.

U.N. and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan was discussing Syria on Sunday in Russia, which vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution aimed at pressuring Assad but has shown increasing impatience with him. His next stop is Beijing, which also blocked U.N. action.

Annan’s plan, endorsed by the U.N. Security Council, includes a cease-fire by Syrian forces, a daily two-hour halt to fighting to evacuate the injured and provide aid, and inclusive talks about a political solution.

But, there are still questions about how such an agreement would be overseen and enforced. An Arab League monitoring effort in Syria failed, labeled a farce by some who participated. The likelihood that a Syrian regime that has shelled cities would talk in good faith to the people it targeted is remote, and outgunned Syrian rebels say the time is long past for any negotiation.

The United Nations says more than 8,000 people have died. Many were civilian protesters.

Assad bucked the trend of relatively quick transitions to new governments in regional uprisings. Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, where a NATO bombing campaign helped oust Moammar Gadhafi, did not bear the same geopolitical tensions as the Syrian case. The conflict there comes as Israel considers a plan to bomb the nuclear facilities of Iran, a regional power and close ally of Assad, and further destabilization in Syria could set off lasting unrest.

Turkey and the United States, in an election year, “are reluctant to make more forceful moves because of the long-term costs of policing the sectarian violence that will surely happen following the collapse of the Assad regime,” said Arda Batu, professor of international relations at Yeditepe University in Istanbul and editor-in-chief of the Kalem Journal, a website about regional affairs.

The countries meeting in Istanbul hope to help the Syrian opposition coalesce into a more coherent movement that can show all Syrians, not only the majority Sunni Muslims, that they would have a place in a post-Assad future.

The “Friends of Syria” group of more than 60 countries made little headway at its maiden meeting in Tunisia in February, and countries are already talking about creating a subgroup to discuss military options more urgently. Saudi Arabia and Qatar are some of the strongest advocates of this approach.

One idea sees Arab countries and Turkey — with the U.S., ideally, but possibly without — establishing a buffer zone along the Syrian-Turkish border that would serve as a humanitarian corridor and staging ground for the rebel Free Syrian Army. On the Syrian side of the border, it would entail army defectors and other guerrillas wresting control of land and holding it, which they have been unable to do.

Earlier this month, CIA chief David Petraeus met Erdogan in Ankara. Turkish media said the prime minister warned that deepening instability in Syria would provide a “living space” for militant organizations active in the region, including the PKK.

On Saturday, Turkey’s Yeni Safak newspaper, which is considered close to the government, said 500 military personnel have inspected areas close to the border for a safe zone that could stretch 20 kilometers (12.5 miles) inside Syria, and would end their “studies” before the meeting in Istanbul.

The newspaper did not provide sources, but the report contributed to a sense that the safe zone idea is slowly gaining traction despite the pitfalls.

“If the U.S. is not involved, there is no way Turkey would get involved in it,” said Osman Bahadir Dincer, a Syria expert at the International Strategic Research Organisation, a center in Ankara, the Turkish capital. However, he predicted “some kind of an intervention in the form of a buffer zone or a safe zone” within one or two months.

Dincer said a decision to arm the Free Syrian Army was unlikely at the Istanbul meeting amid questions over the composition of the ragtag militias, and divisions between fighters in Syria and the Syrian National Council, the opposition group based outside the country.

“The opposition is too fragmented, there is confusion as to which group represents who, or what they represent,” he said.

The U.S. and other key allies, however, are considering providing Syrian rebels with communications help, medical aid and other “non-lethal” assistance. Ben Rhodes, the White House deputy national security adviser for strategic communication, said in South Korea on Sunday that communications assistance could be critical to the opposition’s efforts.

If any military intervention is to gain the international legitimacy that was accorded the Libya mission, it will need the U.N.’s stamp of approval. That requires the acquiescence of veto-wielding Security Council members Russia and China, an unlikely possibility that could only occur if they are included in the process and feel similarly betrayed by the Assad regime.

Without the U.N., the U.S. would be stretched to justify military involvement. It could help NATO ally Turkey in the event of a Syrian attack across the border, or make a U-turn on a doctrine of caution about intervention that Obama has insisted on since he was a presidential candidate.

“Of course, it is not possible to remain a spectator, to wait and not to intervene,” Erdogan said in South Korea, with Obama at his side. “It is our humanitarian and conscientious responsibility. We are engaged in efforts toward doing whatever is necessary within the framework of international law. We are happy to see that our views on this overlap.”

GORENTAS, Turkey (AP) — Syrian rebel commander Ahmad Mihbzt and his ragtag fighters grabbed their aging rifles to fight Syrian troops advancing on their village, but soon fled under a rain of exploding artillery shells.

“We will fight until our last drop of blood,” Mihbzt declared a week later in this village across the Turkish border. “We just withdrew because we ran out of ammunition.”

Like Mihbzt’s men, rebels across Syria fighting to topple President Bashar Assad lack the weapons that can pose a serious challenge to the regime’s large, professional army. Some rebel units have more fighters than guns, forcing them to take turns fighting. Because of ammunition shortages, some fire automatic rifles one shot at a time, counting each bullet.

Rebel leaders and anti-regime activists say rising gun prices and more tightly controlled borders are making it harder for them to acquire arms and smuggle them into Syria. This could tip the already unbalanced military equation of Syria’s year-old uprising further in the regime’s favor.

The opposition has suffered a series of military setbacks as regime forces have repeatedly routed them in their strongholds, most recently the eastern city of Deir al-Zour on Tuesday.

The weapons shortage has grown so acute that the opposition’s disorganized leadership say only military aid can stop Assad’s forces. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Libya have spoken positively of the idea, but no country is known to be arming the rebels. The United States and many European countries have rejected sending weapons, fearing that it would fuel a civil war.

The weapons problems reflect the fractured, haphazard nature of the rebel movement. The uprising began a year ago with peaceful protests demanding political reform, inspired by the successful revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. Since then, Assad has waged a withering crackdown.

In response, some in the opposition began to take up arms to defend their towns and attack government troops. The local militias and breakaway units from the Syrian army mostly identify with the Free Syrian Army, a loose-knit umbrella group, but they operate independent of each other. The groups, numbering anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred men, are largely on their own in finding weapons and supplies.

Defectors from the army, mostly low-level soldiers, bring arms and know-how with them. Most have only light weapons, such as Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. Rebel coordinators say groups have looted heavier weapons from army caches, and activist videos posted online show anti-aircraft guns and anti-tank missiles. But heavy weapons remain rare and have not significantly boosted rebel capabilities.

Smuggling from neighboring countries was key earlier in the conflict. But rebels and anti-regime activists now say Syrian forces have mined many of the smuggling routes from Turkey and Lebanon, and the Turkish and Jordanian governments have tightened border controls to avoid being pulled into the conflict.

Rebel frustrations are clear in the string of poor Turkish villages across Syria’s northern border where more than 16,000 Syrians live in refugee camps. The camps host hundreds of rebel fighters seeking to regroup as well as smugglers who trade in livestock, cigarettes and gasoline.

Last week, some 200 rebels with light arms in the Syrian hill village of Janoudiyeh were no match for Assad’s forces, which shelled the area before sending in troops, said Mihbzt, the rebel commander.

His forces fled across the border, about 6 miles from town, and into Turkey. But rising gun prices and strict border controls prevent his men from rearming, he said. So they plan to target border sentries to seize their arms or loot Syrian arms depots.

Other fighters who have found refuge in Turkey reported similar frustrations.

“We were forced to fire single shots in clashes because we don’t have enough ammunition,” said Majdi Hamdo. “I have two magazines for my Kalashnikov and one of them has been empty for the past month.”

In contrast, analysts say Assad’s army boasts 330,000 soldiers and highly advanced weaponry, most of it bought from Russia.

While many of its recent weapons purchases — like air defense technology and anti-ship missiles — can’t be used against rebels, they point to a highly sophisticated force.

Joseph Holliday, an analyst with the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War who has studied Syria’s rebels, said they will not be able to challenge the army without substantial help, though they can wage an effective insurgency.

“There is no possibility in the foreseeable future that they’ll be able to pose a real challenge to or defeat the regime’s forces in a pitched battle,” he said. “They can continue to survive. They can attack areas where the regime is not in full control, and they can sap regime forces and get them to play the proverbial whack-a-mole that U.S. forces had to deal with in Iraq.”

That means the violence could last. Already the revolt has become one of the bloodiest of the Arab Spring, with the U.N. saying more than 8,000 people have been killed.

“Because of the strength of the regime and because of the rebels’ survivability and resilience, you’re looking at a protracted conflict,” he said.

Rebels in Syria’s south typify this insurgent strategy, where small bands of fighters attack regime targets then disappear into nearby farmland. This week, they bombed a bridge on a key highway to prevent the army from bringing in more tanks.

Activist Raed al-Suleiman said his village of Nawa in Daraa province has fewer than 100 rebels, whom local residents support.

“They give them money, food or clothing,” he said. “Their ammunition is all booty from the regime since no aid is coming from Jordan.”

Ahmad Kassem, an FSA coordinator outside Syria, said rebels had recently looted weapons caches in Daraa and outside of Damascus, getting thousands of machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades, anti-aircraft guns and missiles.

“The seized weapons will give a qualitative jump to our military operations,” he said. “It’s not enough, but sufficient in the meantime to inflict harm on Bashar’s oppressive army.”

The Syrian government blames the uprising terrorist groups acting out a foreign conspiracy and cites insurgent attacks to press its argument. It has vowed to keep fighting.

It bars most media organizations for working in the country, and rebel and activists claims could not be independently confirmed.

Still, many rebels say the arms shortage restricts their abilities.

Rebel coordinator Mohammed Qaddah in Jordan said some 2,000 fighters in the countryside around Damascus have less than one rifle per man, forcing them to take turns or resort to simpler means.

“We use Molotov cocktails and homemade grenades in roadside ambushes because we’re desperate,” he said. “But we have no means to arm all our eager men.”